Visions of blue waves and leftist insurgencies are roiling the Democratic Party. As a result, we are all subject to fretting by members of the Democratic establishment. They are lying to themselves. And if you fear what’s happening, so are you.
Forty years of rising inequality, an endless “war on terror,” and the election of America’s most prominent racist clown as president have, at long last, given rise to a political moment in which actual left-wing candidates (by American standards, at least) threaten to gain a measurable amount of power. The most common objection to this development, heard mostly from older Democrats who have held some measure of influence in the party, is that it threatens to pull the party too far to the left, which will result, presumably, in a loss of power down the road. This is nonsense in two ways. First, from a purely political perspective: How’s the old strategy been working for you, Democrats? You control neither Congress, nor the White House, nor the Supreme Court, nor the majority of state governments, despite a national demographic mix that is in your favor. An easy way to measure the effectiveness of any existing strategy is to contemplate the fact that that strategy is what has gotten us to where we are now. Little more needs to be said about the claim that the classic, triangulating Democratic approach to politics should have on political wisdom.
More importantly: the unquenchable urge of Democrats to move to the center is based not on genuinely held beliefs, but on fear. You don’t actually want that. The sort of moral beliefs that give rise to political beliefs do not direct people into what pundits call the “center” of the political spectrum. Politics is not a bathtub that seeks a perfect mix of hot and cold. Politics is using power to achieve certain ends. The ends that people want to achieve are, consciously or subconsciously, aligned with broad philosophical beliefs. The Republican Party at its core believes in the maximization of self-interest for the rich and powerful. The freedom of the right wing is the freedom to exploit anything and anyone for your own gain. People whose impulse is the opposite—the good of the whole, rather than the good of the individual—end up on the left. Many people cannot articulate this, and our two-party system is awful at manifesting these urges in a human way, and furthermore a lot of regular people don’t have time to think much about politics at all and just end up voting for whoever their uncle says, but anyone who cares enough to get involved in politics and cast votes based on actual policy positions is driven by a belief about right and wrong. A belief about what their general ideals are. And nobody’s fucking ideal is “a Bloomberg-Biden ticket.”
Ideals are things like: I wish everyone had adequate health care! I wish there were no poverty! I wish every child had an equally good education! I wish for peace! We know that they are not instantly (or perhaps ever) achievable, but they guide us in the right direction. Ideals are not things like: I want Congress to pay for new spending programs with budget cuts! I want public-private partnerships to determine a free market solution to health insurance! I want decisions to be left to the states!
Those are the sort of unsatisfactory positions that happen after things have been negotiated with enemies. For decades now, the Democratic Party has pursued the brilliant strategy of discarding ideals completely and starting with the negotiated position, calling it common-sense centrism. The Republican Party has been savvy enough to maintain its ideals—fuck the poor, serve the rich, wave the flag and holler about Jesus—lying about them when necessary, but always pursuing them with great zeal. Unsurprisingly, when you start a game of tug-of-war at the center and the other side starts on the far right, you end up on the right. That’s how we got where we are today.
Fetishizing centrism is a disease. It is a proven loser’s game. More to the point, it is not the honest pursuit of what you want. Democrats have gotten far to used to moderating themselves out of fear. The generation that lived through the 1960s and free love and antiwar protests and the civil rights movement somehow came to believe that their own radicalism could never be realized. Ever since the Clinton era, Democrats have been censoring their own ideals because they thought they had to. They thought that to win elections their party had to be less good. It had to capitulate and triangulate and co-opt Republican positions, because what people actually believe in deep in their hearts was silly and unserious and not worthy of politics. Cut open a Democratic centrist and you’ll find a lefty heart inside, if it hasn’t shriveled away completely. People become Democrats because somewhere deep down they believe in the exact same policies that the leftists “insurgents” of today are now pursuing. But an entire generation was implicitly taught that those ideals were not realistic. And now they are afraid to embrace them wholeheartedly.
Democratic voters: have no fear. Vote your conscience. Things are bad. We have a long journey to fix things now. Don’t concede positions that you don’t believe in. Don’t lose your nerve. Don’t run to the center because you have lost faith in the ability of pure ideas to become real. Look at recent history. Centrism is a failure. All the big bad socialists are just giving voice to what is in your own heart.
There are no centrists. There are only scared idealists. You want this. Stop fighting it and get on board.